After calling on governors to “dominate” protesters in their cities Monday, President Trump put on a show.
After Bill Barr reportedly ordered authorities to aggressively clear peaceful protesters from in front of the White House with tear gas, Trump marched forth with senior administration and military officials in tow, for the already-infamous photo-op at St. John’s Church near the White House.
“It’s a triumphant moment of hope over fear,” said the recently resigned ambassador to Germany and interim national security adviser, Richard Grenell.
To Trump’s supporters, Monday’s show was a victory that followed on days of calls for a militaristic approach to the protests.
“Hard to imagine any other @POTUS having the guts to walk out of the White House like this: @realDonaldTrump,” former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker swooned.
“If they were peaceful protesters, there would be no need to use teargas,” the conservative columnist Marc Thiessen said on Fox News. “It means they resisted.”
Later Monday evening, as Black Hawk helicopters rattled Washington, D.C. residents’ windows and top military brass toured the streets — which the Secretary of Defense referred to earlier in the day as a “battlespace” — some among the conservative commentariat and prominent Republican politicians cheered the display of military muscle.
“Suddenly #Antifa and #BlackLivesMatter aren’t so tough because, instead of storekeepers and little old ladies, the cavalry showed up,” Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative author, wrote under a picture of a helicopter laden with soldiers. “Paramilitary, meet the US military!”
If D.C.’s mayor Muriel Bowser won’t “protect the Nation’s Capital,” wrote Fox News commentator and Trump campaign adviser Harlan Hill, then the President, “the Secret Service, and federal military police will.”
In the National Review on Tuesday, after the smoke cleared, editor Rich Lowery called for “overwhelming force” to deal with rioters across the country.
That matched a similar call from the pundit Buck Sexton on Saturday. “This isn’t going to stop until the good guys are willing to use overwhelming force against the bad guys,” he wrote.
The photo-op Monday came a day after Trump pledged to declare “antifa” a terrorist group. What that actually means is entirely unclear — the label stands for “anti-fascist,” which is an adjective, not a formal organization — but politicians and pundits took the opportunity to expound on some of their fantasies about military-style attack on the American left.
Noah Pollack, a contributor at The Washington Free Beacon, envisioned orange-jumpsuited antifa prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. “We did it with Al-Qaeda terrorists,” he reasoned.
And in a post that has since been removed from Twitter, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) salivated at the idea.
“Now that we clearly see Antifa as terrorists, can we hunt them down like we do those in the Middle East?”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK), meanwhile, suggested there ought to be “no quarter for insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters, and looters,” once U.S. military forces took to the streets.
The military term “no quarter,” put simply, would mean killing those arrested rather than affording them due process or even capturing them alive; Cotton later backtracked, citing other examples of writers using the phrase metaphorically.
But in an earlier tweet before the teargas began to flow Monday, the Arkansas senator said that “Anarchy, rioting, and looting needs to end tonight.”
“If local law enforcement is overwhelmed and needs backup, let’s see how tough these Antifa terrorists are when they’re facing off with the 101st Airborne Division,” he wrote.
The President was appreciative.
“100% Correct,” he responded. “Thank you Tom!”